Let’s start with a quick rundown on what language immersion preschool programs are, exactly, and how they differ from traditional language classes. A traditional class means that one class (the language itself, e.g. Spanish) is taught in the foreign language. The other classes in the child care or preschool program are taught in English. The result is that a relatively small percentage of the child’s day is spent speaking Spanish.
In a language immersion daycare or preschool, most (or all) classes are taught in the foreign language, resulting in a higher percentage of the day spent speaking it. There are different types of immersion programs, depending your goals as parents. All programs assume that one language (let’s say English) is being spoken at home and you, parents, would like another language (let’s say Spanish) to be learned at preschool. Maybe even a third language (let’s say Mandarin).
Complete immersion is probably the most popular choice and means that 100% of the classes are taught in Spanish. This type of program is one-way, i.e., the program is designed to bring about fluency in Spanish. It is assumed that your children will become fluent in English because it is spoken at home.
Partial immersion means that 50% of the classes are taught in Spanish. The program is therefore two-way and brings about fluency in both Spanish and English. “Triple play” programs are for the truly ambitious and are variations that involve a two-way complete immersion with Spanish and Mandarin at school and (supposedly) English at home. These types of programs are rare.
Now that we’ve covered the types of language immersion preschool programs, let’s cover five reasons why they are a good idea. You can probably put a price tag on the first one, but probably not on the last one!
1. Bang for your buck. Children have a window of a few years during which it is easy for them to learn languages. Extraordinarily easy in fact. The “cutoff” age is estimated to be about 10 years. An immersion daycare or preschool may be a little more expensive than an “English only” one, but the return on investment in their language education when they are less than 5 years old is hundreds of times higher than when they are 15, and probably thousands of times higher than when they are 20, especially if you consider the cost of college these days!
2. Language absorption. Children are little language sponges from about the age of 6 months until about the age of 10. The more you send their way, the more they absorb. If you want them to absorb more, it makes sense to send as much their way as soon as possible. The sheer volume of the foreign language being used in immersion programs is much higher than in a traditional language class, of course.
3. Methodology. In a language immersion daycare, teachers have more time and flexibility to approach teaching from a wider variety of angles. This style is a good fit for younger learners who are naturally inquisitive and are actually able to absorb the language from all angles.
4. Involvement. At the organizational level, language immersion preschools tend to act as a magnet for achievement-oriented parents who like to stay involved so you can meet others who share your educational values. On the personal level, especially for full immersion preschools, parents usually feel responsible for making sure their child knows how to communicate everything in English as well, e.g. “You know circulo means circle, right?!”
5. Compassion and culture. Placing your children in an environment where they need to try harder to understand and be understood is a very efficient way to teach compassion. It is also impossible to learn a foreign language without learning a lot about the foreign culture that goes along with it. Cultural awareness and compassion for others with different backgrounds have always been assets but arguably never more so than in the interconnected world of today. Priceless!